How to Take Care of Gemstone Jewelry
The color and sparkle of gemstones can be quite captivating – they are some of nature’s most beautiful and most durable creations. Still, they can become dull or damaged if neglected or handled carelessly. Simple precautions and appropriate maintenance can preserve the beauty and value of gemstone jewelry for a very long time.
Know Your Gemstones
First of all – get to know your gems. With such a wide variety of precious and semiprecious stones available on the market, it is important to have the accurate information about the kind of gemstone used in your jewelry and whether it has undergone any kind of enhancing treatment, or has inclusion, because that can play a role in the way you care for it. Read the information sheets that often come with new jewelry. If you’ve come into possession of an older piece and are not sure what gem was used to make it, bring it to an experienced jeweler for an evaluation. In general, a gemstone can be a mineral (such as a sapphire), rock (lapis lazuli) or organic material (amber, pearl, coral). Keep in mind that many gemstones are treated to improve their clarity – for example, emeralds are oiled to improve color and lapis lazuli is commonly dyed and coated with paraffin to enhance color and shine. Naturally, different gemstones have different levels of hardness (for example, sapphires and rubies are hard; pearls and coral are soft), react differently when exposed to water, heat, light, acids and chemicals.
Always be careful around chemicals. Household chemicals can damage the structure of softer gemstones and impair the treatment applied to enhanced gemstones, making them look dull. Soft and porous gemstones can absorb chemicals and eventually change color. Organic gemstones, especially pearls, are very vulnerable to chemicals found in hairspray, cosmetics and perfumes. Chlorine is also very dangerous, because it weakens gold and can damage the setting, which can eventually cause your gemstone to fall out. Denatured alcohol, turpentine, acetone and ammonia can also be harmful and dull the surface of the stones; petroleum based products are especially harmful to amber and pearls. Protect your jewelry from heavy impact. Gemstones and their settings can be damaged by impact – a hard blow placed at the edge or point of the stone can chip or shatter it. Gemstones that contain inclusions – even the hardest ones, such as rubies and sapphires– are even more prone to breakage upon heavy impact.
Protect your jewels by storing them separately, keeping in mind that the harder gemstones can easily scratch the softer ones, as well as the metals. On the other hand, soft gemstones such as lapis, turquoise, amber and opal can be easily scratched by pin stems, prongs, clasps and sharp edges of other jewelry. Wrap each piece individually in a soft cloth, or – better still – return it to its original padded jewelry box at the end of the day. Remember to store your gemstones away from direct sunlight – some, especially amethyst, citrine and smoky quartz, can fade when exposed to sunlight. Sunlight and heat can also dry out the water in opals, impacting their color. Do not store emeraldsnear a source of heat.
In general, always use the cleaning method that is safe for the most vulnerable element of your jewelry – this rule applies in particular to jewelry pieces that contain multiple stones. Gemstone jewelry, like any other type of jewelry, collects grime and dirt coming from everyday wear and can lose its sparkle and shine. Each time you remove your gemstone jewelry, remember to gently wipe off traces of makeup and body oils with a cotton cloth. Hard, transparent stones, such as sapphires and rubies, can be cleaned using warm water, a touch of soft detergent and a gentle brush (such as baby toothbrush). Rinse them off thoroughly to prevent build-up of soap residue, wipe with a soft cloth and leave to dry. The commercial jewelry cleaners can also be useful, but always make sure they are safe to use on your particular gemstone. Be especially careful with pearls, emeralds and amber, because the chemicals used in those cleaners, such as ammonia, can damage them. Opaque gemstones, such as lapis, turquoise, malachite or onyx, and organic gems, such as pearls, coral, and amber, can absorb chemicals and soap, which will accumulate inside of the stone and change its appearance. These gems should be cleaned by gently wiping them with a damp cloth. Never soak porous or soft gemstones, including pearls, in any liquid. Ultrasonic cleaning devices should also be used with caution. It is safe to use them to clean amethysts, rubies, sapphires and other single-crystal gems. Never use them to clean opaque gemstones. Emeralds can also be damaged by this type of cleaning. Never use toothpaste or any other abrasive substance to clean your gemstones – it can impair or damage their surface, particularly the surface of soft stones such as amber, lapis or turquoise. Brushing can damage the surface of soft gemstones.
Visit a Professional
Once every year or two – depending on the frequency of wear – bring your gemstone pieces to an expert jeweler for a thorough inspection and professional cleaning. Check the condition of metal settings and ask for advice on how to best care for your stones to preserve their beauty and value for many years to come.